Police: Woman took rent for home she doesn't own

Police: Woman took rent for home she doesn't own

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Police are looking for a woman who allegedly scammed people out of rent payments.

Amy Michelle Klopfstein, 30, reportedly defrauded at least four victims who paid her rent and rental deposits for a home on the 3500 block of Harris Road. Klopfstein posted the foreclosed home for rent on Craigslist, but she doesn't own the home.

Police warn that this particular scam is growing in popularity. They said the scam artist will often break into a home and change the locks to give victims the impression that it's their house.

But, Kern County is seeing a number of variations to rental scams using Craigslist.  In some cases, houses being listed for rent are actually being occupied by homeowners.

In those instances, the home owners say they also become a victim.  Eyewitness News was contacted by several would-be renters who spotted a Craigslist ad for a large home in the Seven Oaks area. 

"People were knocking on the door," the home owner said.  "One day we had eight contacts."  The resident didn't want to be identified.  Things got even worse.

The resident told Eyewitness News they found toys moved around in the back, leading them to believe people had looked through the yard when they weren't home.  Sometimes they'd get home, and find notes on the door.

The resident alerted Craigslist, and the ad was removed.  But it popped up again. 

The large home had been offered for sale for a few months, and real estate agent Mary Christenson said she was also contacted by hopeful renters.  She tried to get information about the scam from them.

"I asked them to forward the e-mail to me first that they got, showing the Craigslist ad and respond to it, so then we could get it, and trace where it comes from," Christenson said.   She wanted a good, hard look at the scammer's response. 

The e-mail from the scammer says he now lives out of the country, and wants to rent out the house.  It also says the house was at sale at one time, but the "owner" has now decided to rent it instead.

The e-mail has some red flags, like a number of grammar and spelling mistakes.  Christenson said the price for the rent is also a warning sign.  The scammer asks $800 a month for rent.

"Anybody in their right mind would know that a home in that neighborhood doesn't go for that, it would go for $2,000 or $3,000," Christensen said.

Two viewers contacted Eyewitness News about the same house in Seven Oaks advertised on Craigslist, and another viewer said she had checked on two other local homes that she eventually suspected as being scams.

At both houses, the renters had spotted furniture inside.  Each re-contacted the scammer, and he responded with stories about a brother living in the house or visitors from Canada staying there briefly.

Christensen said renters would be safer looking through newspaper ads or using an established rental agency. 

The realtor added that she is also a victim of these scammers.  "They take our copy from our newspaper ads and our on-line websites and they duplicate it," Christenson said.  The bogus ad then ends up looking real.  And Christenson said scammers had even taken her real e-mail address and changed it slightly. 

Christensen said she gets about one of these scams every month involving a property she's working with.  The real estate agent said it's a growing scheme across the U.S.

The realtor has advice for legitimate home-owners, if their house gets used in a bogus Craigslist rental ad.

"They might want to post a sign on their door saying the property is not for rent," Christenson said.  "And just make sure to lock the gates so people can't get around on their property."

And the red flags for renters would include when a potential landlord is far away, won't meet the renter face-to-face, or wants the rent or deposit wired to them by Western Union.

In the case of the Seven Oaks home, the realtor said she e-mailed the scammer back that she had sent information about his ad to the district attorney.  She never heard back.  She also checked with police about these cases.

"Until there's an actual crime that's committed, until someone loses money to this person and is unable to lease a house, it's not actually a crime that's been committed yet," Christenson said.

But, Bakersfield police believe there is a crime and at least four victims in the situation where Amy Klopfstein is suspected.  So officers remind renters to be cautious when checking properties posted on Craigslist.

Prospective renters are encouraged to ask for the landlord's identification and to check on property ownership through the county assessor's office or hall of records.

Anyone with information on Klopfstein's whereabouts is asked to call Detective Glenn Anderson at (661) 326-3540.